A victory against bigotry

The “I-Word” is becoming an endangered species. This is one creature we don’t want to save.

For years, immigrant advocates have been lobbying news organizations to cease using the term, “illegal immigrant.”

“Illegal” took a welcome blow last month when the Associated Press announced it was dropping the term from its iconic stylebook. “The AP Stylebook,” a guide for grammar, punctuation and usage, is a staple in many American newsrooms, including The Chicago Reporter.

“Illegal Immigrant No More,” announced the April 2 blog post. “The Stylebook no longer sanctions the term ‘illegal immigrant’ or the use of ‘illegal’ to describe a person,” wrote AP Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll. “Instead, it tells users that ‘illegal’ should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally.”

The AP decision followed hard lobbying by the “Drop the I-Word” campaign. Colorlines.com, a daily news website that covers racial issues, launched the effort in 2010, aiming to eliminate a “racially charged slur that confuses the immigration debate and fuels violence,” wrote Jorge Rivas for Colorlines.com.

After the AP announcement, USA Today followed suit. The New York Times and other major publications are considering the change as well.

More than 15 years ago, the Reporter began using the term, “undocumented immigrant,” on its pages. No human being should be labeled “illegal.”

Words—and how we use them—can profoundly impact public policy. Anti-immigrant organizations have wielded the term “illegal alien” as a weapon to undercut the cause of immigration reform.

Advocates of all political stripes have fought to eliminate other offending words once considered “acceptable”: words like “Negro,” “Oriental,” “Polack,” “homosexual,” “retard” and “cripple.”

I thought the term “wetback” was on that list. That is, until U.S. Rep. Don Young of Alaska used it during a recent radio interview to describe workers who once picked tomatoes on his father’s farm. He quickly apologized.

Destructive words can come from high places. For instance, the term, “self-deport,” was made infamous last year by Mitt Romney, in the Republican presidential primary campaign. The United States should enact immigration laws so harsh that undocumented immigrants would “self-deport” themselves, he proposed. Romney went on to become the 2012 Republican presidential nominee.

Meanwhile our May/June cover story has uncovered a real, and just as pernicious, deportation policy. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants have been deported from the United States without the opportunity to appear before an immigration judge, reporter María Inés Zamudio reveals.

These “fast-track” deportations by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security deprive immigrants of due process, advocates argue.

The good news: U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois’ 4th Congressional District, has pledged to address the issue as part of the legislation currently being considered in Congress. We will be watching.

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